How Drinking Alcohol Affects Diabetes

Woman drinking white wine on patio
Hero Images/Getty Images

If you have diabetes, you can drink alcohol in moderation, but it's important that you know how alcohol affects your blood sugar. Here's the skinny on how diabetes and alcohol mix: learning it may help you prevent any serious blood sugar reactions.

How Alcohol Affects Blood Sugar

What most people forget when they drink alcohol is that some kinds of alcohol contain carbohydrates, which raise your blood sugar. Beer is highest in carbohydrates, containing about a serving of carbohydrates (13 g) per 12 oz. Wine is a step behind, delivering about a gram of carbohydrate per ounce. Spirits usually don't have carbohydrates, but people often consume them with carb-laden mixers, such as juice or soda. Whatever your choice, make sure you factor these alcohol-related carbohydrates into your overall meal plan or insulin requirement. If you don't, you may see a spike in glucose levels, depending on how much alcohol you drink.

A related issue is weight gain. If you're one of the many people with diabetes who also struggles with excess weight, remember that alcohol contributes additional calories that can quickly add up, especially if these calories are not factored into your overall meal plan.

Alcohol Can Also Lower Blood Sugar

What might surprise you is that alcohol can also lower blood sugar levels. When you consume alcohol, it is metabolized in the liver, which is also where you store some of your body’s glucose. When you need that glucose for energy, your liver acts to release it into your system. Alcohol can interfere with the liver’s release of glucose and can result in low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) for up to 12 hours after you have a drink. This means that if you are taking insulin or oral medications to help lower blood sugar, this could cause your blood sugar to go dangerously low.

So, the short-term effect of consuming alcohol can be an increase in blood sugar levels. But a longer-term effect might be a drop in blood sugar.


Here are some tips to achieve that balance and avoid both extreme reactions that might result from alcohol consumption:

  • Always check your blood sugar before you have a drink so you can manage your blood sugar in a proactive manner.
  • Know how many carbohydrates are in one drink. This is especially important when the alcoholic drink includes mixers, fruit juice or regular soda, which typically increase the number of carbohydrates significantly. To lower the carbohydrate count, substitute soda water, no-calorie soda, or artificially sweetened juices.
  • Factor the carbohydrates in the alcohol you consume into your overall food and beverage intake and calculate your needed insulin requirements accordingly.
  • Don’t consume alcohol on an empty stomach. Eat a snack that includes carbohydrate before or while you drink to avoid low blood sugar.
  • Drink in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 defines drinking in moderation as no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men. One drink, by definition, is a 12-ounce beer, 8-ounce glass of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. 
  • Check your blood sugar periodically in the following 12 hours after drinking alcohol to ensure that your glucose levels remain in a normal range.
Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • American Diabetes Association. "Alcohol."

  • Joslin Diabetes Center. "Diabetes and Alcohol".

  • Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. United States Department of Agriculture. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010"